Why I Deviated From the Norm

When I first conceived of the concept of a novella collection, I was incredibly excited. Some stories are simply too big for shorts but too contained for novels, and the novella is the perfect length for these stories. At the time, I was going through a period where I was writing a lot of novellas, and I had three that took familiar genre tropes (namely the vampire, the time machine, and the deal with the devil) and gave them my own unique twist. I thought this would make for an entertaining collection, and I came up with the title DEVIATIONS FROM THE NORM.

The next step was finding a publisher for it. Not to sound cocky, I am aware that I’m a small fish in a big pond, but over the last several years I had been lucky enough to find homes for everything I wrote. Novels, novellas, short story collections…I had the immense fortune of working with some tremendous publishers. Therefore, I expected to be able to find a home for DEVIATIONS without too much trouble.

My first choice publisher passed simply because I submitted two manuscripts to them at the same time. DEVIATIONS as well as a haunted house novel. They only had one slot available in their roster, and since they already had a pending collection with me, they wanted to go with the novel. I was more than happy with that, but it did leave DEVIATIONS homeless.

I looked into many of the other publishers I had worked with more recently, and unfortunately most of them were closed for submissions. I did find a few other publishers that said they would be happy to read the manuscript and consider it.

Yet these all resulted in rejections. Disappointing, but it is all part of the publishing game. I will say, however, that something that really frustrated me was that these publishers never read more than the first few chapters of the first novella.

Let me take a moment to talk about the novella that opens the collection, “The Unholy Eucharist.” This is my take on the vampire mythos, creating my own original origin story for the creatures. I consider this piece to be one of the most ambitious I’ve ever undertaken, delving back into history in a way I rarely do. I did a lot of research for it, and I had a wonderful time crafting the tale. It ended up being a story of which I was remarkably proud. To me, it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done…so I was rather surprised when this novella was the sticking point for publishers.

And yet I shouldn’t have been. My origin story dates back to Biblical times and incorporates Biblical figures into the narrative, including Jesus himself. I take great liberties with these figures and use them for my own means. Not because I was trying to make any type of statement on religion, but simply because that is where my imagination took me.

Some of the publishers felt that this would prove too controversial with readers, and that I would end up offending people. Interestingly enough, I got a comment from one publisher saying that as an atheist he was almost surprised that I had treated the Biblical characters with such reverence. (A digression, I sometimes see other atheists saying they can’t get into stories that treat Biblical figures as real. This to me is a baffling view, as we don’t have to believe vampires are real to enjoy stories about them, or werewolves, or zombies, etc.)

In any case, the publishers I sent the collection to all said they read only two or three chapters of “The Unholy Eucharist” before stopping because the religious aspects made it a hard sell for them. This truly did frustrate me. I put so much time and effort and passion into that story, it honestly made me a little mad that the publishers couldn’t even bother to read the entire thing before dismissing it. And while I understand the business aspect of publishing is paramount, it also left me a little disillusioned to think that there isn’t more risk-taking in the industry.

Also extremely frustrating was the fact that the other two novellas in the collection – “Kronoz” and “The Price of Success” – had never even been read by the publishers. I felt sorry for those stories, not even having the chance to be considered.

Yet I still believed very strongly in this collection. “Kronoz” and “The Price of Success” (the latter of which I wrote with my good friend Shane Nelson) I thought were highly entertaining and I wanted people to have a chance to read them.

And despite everything I was told, I believed strongly in the merits of “The Unholy Eucharist.” I felt like it was a rich and involving story with a nice twist at the end which could set up for even more stories in that universe. I really wanted to get it out there and give it a chance to live or die on its own.

So I started seriously considering self-publishing. I had experimented with that before, but only digital editions with crude cover art. This time I wanted to go all out. I contacted a friend of mine who has self-published a lot of his backlist, and he offered to use his Mac program that would automatically format the manuscript for print and digital. I got someone to do a thorough proofing of the book, and I hired a professional cover artist.

To me, that is one of the greatest things about this age where self-publishing is made so effortless. Yes, I know everyone complains that means the market can be flooded with substandard works, but it also means that works that are overlooked or considered too risky can still have a chance to find an audience.

I’m beyond ecstatic to be able to offer DEVIATIONS FROM THE NORM to readers. I do think it’s a collection that is strong and interesting, and I look forward to getting feedback from readers.

You can purchase the collection here: https://www.amazon.com/Deviations-Norm-Mark-Allan-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B07HLJJ692/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1539622244&sr=8-1&keywords=deviations+from+the+norm

The Cairn - Kevin Lucia Guest Blog

I was thrilled to be part of Kevin Lucia's blog tour to promote his excellent collection THINGS YOU NEED. Below is a little missive written by his character Gavin Patchett. Give it a read then go buy the collection. (And if you don't like reading here, I offer a Google Drive link to a pdf: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1fSQWhANYK0tAIdDgSjClKhEIOhyMIKtQ)

Of all the stories I've shared about Clifton Heights and its strangeness, the following serves as perhaps the best representation of the shadows which lurk here. It serves, also, as a nice coda for this brief exercise.

Everyone in town knows, of course, about Raedeker Recreational Park, and Raedeker Park Zoo, on Samara Hill Road (where I grew up, and once saw a strange white cat which terrified my father). Many folks know the stories about the “haunted” lion's cage, or the tales of the lonely teenage ghost girl who sings a mournful tune every Halloween on the old amphitheater in Rec Park. These stories and others like it are staples of Clifton Heights lore. Everyone knows them.

But most people don't known about the cairn. And quite honestly, I didn't know about them myself until I discovered them by accident. I was visiting Raedeker Park around Halloween, drawn by the above legends. Was I planning on turning them into stories?

Perhaps. That's the way it often works with me. I hear about local legends – like the girl in white who haunts Bassler Road, or the stories about Bassler House itself – and turn them over in my mind. If something catches, a story is born. More often than not, only a fragment comes to mind. I jot it down and forget about it until something jars the memory loose again.

In any case, I'd walked through Raedeker Park Zoo, poked around the supposedly haunted lion cage cage, and was standing on the old amphitheater up on the hill, where, as a kid, I watched countless Universal horror movies and westerns on a big white screen. I didn't feel much, except maybe a faint wistfulness, and it was hard to tell if it came from inside me, or somewhere else.

A trickle of a story idea was forming, however, but not about the ghost girl, not really. More about a boy who heard the legend and was determined to hear the ghost girl sing. And maybe the boy's father was a hard-driven pastor who hated Halloween, but not for the reasons the boy thought. Maybe his mother had been killed on Halloween, or right before? Maybe run down on the street while shopping for the boy's Halloween costume, killed in a senseless accident, which would make Halloween a continual reminder of what the pastor had lost.

The thought stopped there and petered out, but that was fine. I'd turn it over in my head on the way home, write it down, and forget about it until it bubbled back to the surface. If that happened, then I knew there was something to write about.

All thoughts about the wistful singing ghost girl and the boy with the pastor father who hated Halloween faded when I stepped from the ruins of Raedeker Park's amphitheater to the parking lot. Glancing right, I saw something I'd never seen before, for some reason, in all my visits there. What looked like an access road at the treeline, winding away into the woods, the way barred by an old wooden gate which looked like it was in as bad a shape as the ruined amphitheater.

I've thought about this often, since. Why did I see that old access road, on that particular day? It's not like I visited Raedeker Park as much as I did when I was a kid. It's conceivable enough that on other visits, I just didn't look in that direction.

But it still seems odd, to me. That I'd look to my right, that day, and see an access road – barred by an old wooden gate – which I'd never seen before, right when I was searching for story inspiration.

Of course, you know what I had to do.


The access road provided surprisingly easy walking, especially considering the condition of the old gate, which didn't look as if it had been opened in over twenty years. It certainly wasn't much of a barrier anymore, the gate and its two posts having rotted through long before. I walked around the gate, (because whatever fencing had been connected to it had also long since fallen into ruin), but I believe one good push would've knocked it right over.

The path looked oddly worn for all that, as if driven on regularly, though I saw no tangible signs of use. Certainly no signs of teenagers – soda or beer cans or bottles, crumpled cigarette boxes, other kinds of litter. For whatever reason, our teenagers didn't frequent this path, or where it led.

Which was telling, in and of itself. Teenagers are the same everywhere, I think. Ours are no better or worse than in other towns. If abandoned places exist, hidden from adult eyes, it's there they will congregate, and do the things teenagers do when parents and adults aren't around.

I did the same, their age. Back then, Old Webb, an abandoned elementary school which stood on Route 79 before the county bulldozed it down my senior year, served as a party hub for teenagers all over Web County, even as far away as Indian Lake. And while the teenagers partied there on Saturday nights, during the summer, adolescents liked to explore its shadowy depths. I logged several hours there myself, and another local writer – Kevin Ellison, owner of Arcane Delights, our used bookstore – has written a charming novella about his experiences there called A Night at Old Webb. It's the kind of story I could never write.

In any case, Clifton Heights teens gather in many places like Old Webb. There's old Bassler House, the abandoned farmhouse on Bassler Road. For every chilling story about what's happened inside its decrepit frame (mine included), there are scores of stories of teenagers (and traditionally, the football team every year, apparently after every home victory), who go inside and experience nothing out of the ordinary, past teenage drinking. On an odd note, I've occasionally wondered if their inebriation protected them, somehow, from Bassler House's purported malign influence.

But for all the usual gathering places around Clifton Heights, places exist which they notoriously leave alone. The old Lapierre house off Allen Road, for example. Also, the ruins of Mr. Trung's koi pond lie untouched. When I was a kid, Mr. Trung – a Vietnam man seeking to escape the memories of the Viet Cong – lived in a modest trailer out on Bassler Road (much closer to town), and grew blueberries. He also maintained a koi pond garden which was the envy of all Clifton Heights gardeners.

He died somewhat mysteriously, apparently suffering a stroke or heart attack, and was found floating face-down in the koi pond. By the time someone discovered him, the koi had eaten quite a bit of his face. In any case, no one ventures into the ruins of his strangely overgrown garden, or sits under the decaying, leaning gazebo, at its center.


I don't know. It's just one of the many places in Clifton Heights which exudes a kind of natural (unnatural?) essence which wards off the curious.

As I walked up the access road winding into the woods on the hill behind Raedeker Park, I wondered if maybe it was one of those places. I saw no signs that anyone had walked or driven along it recently, though, as I've said, it looked oddly well-worn, with no sign of overgrowth.

And I didn't sense anything foreboding about that access road, really. Whenever I drive past Mr. Trung's old garden, a cold shivers passes through me. I've never once had an inclination to stop and poke around. In fact, the novella I wrote about Mr. Trung and his koi, “Sophan,” (part of the novella duet Devourer of Souls), I wrote entirely by imagining what the koi pond looked like, because I've never dared (there, I said it), set foot in that old garden.

I felt no such ill sensations walking along that access road, however. If anything, I felt remarkably...at peace. Free. I've discussed the guilt I grapple with, over what happened to one of my former students, Emma Pital, which I wrote about in my short story “Lament.” I'm grappling with that guilt head on in my first novel (which I've just finished the first draft of), The Mighty Dead. It's a guilt I deal with on a daily basis. It lurks there, in the morning when I rise. It waits for my dreams when I fall asleep at night.

But as I walked along that access road, I realized something curious: I felt no guilt. Not a trace. I felt free and unburdened, in a way I've rarely experienced. For some reason, that unnerved me, and the memory of that freedom unsettles me, even today. It would be easy to say I've just gotten addicted to my guilt, in a masochistic sort of way, and that feeling even a moment of peace was just too strange a sensation.

I don't believe that was the case, however. Especially not after what I found at the end of that access road. I believe that sense of peace didn't come from me. I believe it was forced on me. I believe it came from the road itself, like the paralytic toxins secreted by those Venus flytraps that eat flies and spiders and, in tropical regions, small rodents. It sounds strange (unless you live in Clifton Heights, and understand our brand of strange), but I think that, as I walked along that access road, something was poisoning me (if that makes any kind of sense) with an alien sense of guilt-free peace, and that I'm lucky I made it off that access road alive.


Near the access road's end, it curved to the left and inclined sharply, enough to leave me panting slightly. When I took stock of what lay ahead of me, however, an excited (frightened?) shiver rippled through me, and I felt out of breath for entirely different reasons.


Familiar with Irish folklore and myth, I instantly recognized the dozens of conical, meticulously arranged piles of rocks for what they were. Cairn. Used as landmarks, or, very often...

As grave markers.

The access road cut down the middle, and though I didn't take a specific count, at least three or four or maybe even five dozen cairn stood on both sides of the road, more than I'd ever seen in one place. So many it didn't seem possible, and it came to me, again, that I was standing at the mouth of a graveyard of perhaps more than fifty souls gone to rest, in the woods up behind Raedeker Park.

Then, I lifted my gaze, and saw them, for the first time.

The ruined buildings of Zoo Town, the obvious homes for those who lay in rest at my feet.

Zoo Town is another one of Clifton Height's little known artifacts of the past, even among some of its most “informed” citizens. Only the oldest folks in town have heard of its existence, still fewer have ever seen it...which is very odd, considering it took minimal research on my part, after the fact, to find several entries about it both print and online “History of Webb County” accounts.

Like many small towns in the Adirondacks, during the 1930's, Clifton Heights played home to a small but vibrant Irish-American community. In many places throughout Adirondack Park, the Irish found work in the silver and tin mines, in stone quarries and lumber mills. In Clifton Heights, the Irish worked primarily at Raedeker Park Zoo and Carnival, tending to the animals, cleaning pens and the grounds, operating and maintaining the carnival rides. Up on the hill behind Raedeker Park, they built a small, rustic-but respectable two-street town which became known as “Zoo Town.”

After I passed through the field of cairn (I won't lie; I walked quickly, as a child flitting through a graveyard at night), and walked down one of Zoo Town's streets (again, it appeared oddly worn and recently traveled), I marveled at how well-preserved the old buildings seemed, after so many years. In my cursory examination, I saw not only narrow but sturdy-looking shotgun shacks with small front porches, but also longer buildings in the “center” of town, opening to both streets. One with rows of rusted metal cots bereft of blankets or mattresses (the town infirmary?) and a larger building, which could've possibly been a general store of sorts.

As I stopped in the middle of the street, turning in an entranced 360 degrees, staring, that reverent, hushed presence settled over me. It felt like (though it was surely a product of my imagination) that the entire town had merely stepped out, en mass, and was due to return at any moment. I wondered how the town had come to be abandoned, and I still wonder now, even after researching the matter.

On the surface, the historical account seems innocuous enough. After a rash of accidents due to malfunctions of aging, poorly kept carnival rides in the early sixties, Raedeker Park Zoo & Carnival became just Zoo, as the park closed its carnival due to hikes in insurance rates. With carnival rides dismantled, nearly half of Zoo Town's men and women lost work, leaving them to try and find employment down in Clifton Heights itself, or in surrounding towns, which was difficult, because only a handful of men owned trucks in good enough condition to drive to other towns. Because of this, young men either left town to find work elsewhere, or enlisted at the start of the Vietnam War, and subsequently didn't return home.

So Zoo Town had been dealt a blow it slowly bled out from, as more and more of its young either moved down to Clifton Heights and acclimated to life in town proper, or moved elsewhere. Then came the apparent, final death blow: an unsolved murder of a young girl from Zoo Town, her body discovered on what was then the amphitheater stage at Raedeker Park (And, as it usually does, my research had provided me with a workable source for the singing ghost girl legend, which I'm sure will fashion itself into a story eventually).

For some odd reason, even though the victim was from Zoo Town, the whole incident turned sentiment against Zoo Town. A notable religious leader at the time (I won't say whom, because I'm admittedly holding that back for the future ghost girl story), led the charge, claiming Zoo Town was a “devil's stronghold of pagan, old world rites and customs.”

Nothing came of the pastor's rantings, but it only worsened Zoo Town's bleeding out. More and more of its young left, now followed by many of its middle-aged citizens. As its elders began passing, (as they tend to do), Zoo Town became emptier, until sometime in the mid seventies (it's odd no one actually knows a specific date), the final Zoo Town resident either passed away or left, and Zoo Town fell abandoned, to stay that way.

Even so, recalling that strange hush I felt while looking around Zoo Town, I wonder what else happened. I wonder if maybe the story about the pastor leading a crusade against Zoo Town's “evil pagan rites” only scratched the surface. I certainly didn't sense the same foreboding I always feel when driving by Mr. Trung's old koi garden, or the weird sense of displacement I felt the only time I shopped at Save-A-Lot, a used and antique furniture store which is, weirdly enough, housed in an old school just outside town.

But I sensed something in the ruins of Zoo Town, regardless. As I said, either the sensation that its residents were due back any moment, or that, on some plain of existence I couldn't see, Zoo Town still bustled with life and industry.

My thoughts stuttered to an abrupt halt, however, when I heard a woman say from behind me, “Marvelous. Isn't it?”

I turned to see a striking woman about my age standing behind me, dressed in black runner's tights and a black windbreaker, though she didn't look tired or winded, as if from a recent run. Her likewise black hair was pulled in a ponytail, and eyes which looked more golden than anything else took me in as she approached. And I mean that, took me in. It felt like she was appraising me. Sizing me up, evaluating my worth.

Her face possessed high cheekbones and regal features. Her smile, however, was wide and friendly, and despite cutting an impressive figure, she put me at ease, instantly. I didn't feel uncomfortable around her, at all.

Which, in retrospect, troubles me. I know I'm probably acting paranoid, and that she was most likely just a runner, nothing more. But recalling the incident and the almost instantaneous wave of good will I felt wash over me in her presence, I can't help but think she was an extension of the road, and Zoo Town itself. I felt relaxed and comfortable in her presence not because she was harmless, but because she made me feel that way, to keep me docile, compliant...under control.

“You mean the cairn?” I gestured over my shoulder. “Yeah, I'll say. ”

Her smile widened. “So you know your Irish folklore. I'm impressed. Most folks these days don't know what cairn even are.”

I felt oddly pleased at her praise, like a dog who had performed a trick and now hoped for reward. “Well, I'm an English literature teacher, and I do love my folklore. It's kind of in my wheelhouse.”

She smiled wider, golden eyes twinkling as she stepped closer. “Indeed? How fortuitous. Irish folklore is very much in my wheelhouse, also.” She gestured at the buildings. “Do you know of this place, then?”

At the time, of course, I didn't. “Actually, no, which is hard to believe. I grew up in Clifton Heights, and I never knew this was even here.” I looked at her, and found it oddly hard not to be drawn into her gaze. “Do you know what it is?”

“Yes. It was a small community made up of Irish who worked in Raedeker Park Zoo & Carnival, as well as the lumber mill. Over the years locals began calling it 'Zoo Town.' It died out in the seventies when the Carnival closed. Work dried up. The young who could move away did, and eventually, those who were too old to move passed on.” She waved at the cairn behind me. “And there they lay, with the rest of their brethren.”

This, of course, was a truncated history which prompted me to conduct research of my own, later. I glanced back over my shoulder at the cairn. “Amazing. Definitely didn't learn about this place in history class.”

I gazed at the cairn for a few more minutes, suffused once again with that consuming sense of peace. “It's strange how the road runs right between the cairn,” I said. “I'd think it would be away from the road.”

“Another part of Irish myth,” the woman replied. “Are you familiar with ley lines? Faerie paths? What's called 'the night road?'”

I faced her again, and blinked in surprise: She'd taken two steps closer to me. “Uh. I've heard of ley lines and faerie paths. Not the night road, though.”

“Legend has it that they're all one and the same. Ley lines, faerie paths, night roads. Routes of elemental power connecting sites of power.”

I nodded. “Right. Religious sites, graveyards, churches, old battlefronts. So, according to lore, this road is a ley line...”

She tipped her head, “Or a night road.”

“...and it's connecting the cairn back there to...” I paused, thinking, trying to imagine where the access road led to, based on Raedeker Park's location on Samara Hill. “Does it come out on Shelby Road?”

The woman grinned, and once again, the ridiculous notion that I'd pleased her and would be rewarded possessed me. “Yes it does. It runs through Shelby Road Cemetery.”

I snapped my fingers. “Right. Yeah, that cemetery hasn't been used for decades. That makes sense. Ley lines are supposed to connect sites of power, graveyards among them, so, according to legend, this road would be a ley line...”

“Or a night road.”

“...connecting the cairn to Shelby Road Cemetery. And what is a night road, anyway? You've mentioned it a few times, now. As I said, I've heard of ley lines and faerie paths, but not night roads.”

The woman crossed her arms, looking immensely pleased I'd asked such a question. “Like the faerie paths, night roads are roads leading to other plains of existence. Legend had it that walking on a night road was to risk offending the faerie, and if you were found unworthy – or worthy, depending on the story – you would be taken down the night road with them, to run forever. Some considered this a curse. Others – lost folks, folks burdened by guilt, who felt they had nothing left to live for – considered this a blessing. They sought the night road, for release.”

I nodded slowly, a slight feeling of alarm piercing my odd sense of peace, especially at her mention of people “burdened by guilt.” I've mentioned my guilt. It sounds crazy...but when she said some people thought it a blessing to be caught up on the night road?

A part of me..responded.

But another part of me, thank God a stronger part of me, rose up and pushed down that sudden, weird longing. “That's intriguing. Definitely something to research when I get back.”

The woman stepped closer, arching an eyebrow. “Get back? Must you leave...so soon?”

At that moment, all the odd peace I'd felt in the presence of the cairn, and my strange enthrallment with that woman vanished under a cold shiver, one I recognized all too well, a cold shiver I've already referenced several times. Underneath it, however, like a faint whisper?

That longing.

To stay there.


“Yeah, I gotta get going.” For some reason, I was loathe to admit I was a writer looking for inspiration. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I swallowed it and only said, “I just like to take walks and look around, is all.”

She nodded slowly. Did her eyes change, at that moment? Flicker a deeper shade of gold, looking far less friendly, and more...predatory?

Surely it was my imagination.


“Well. It was a pleasure meeting you. I hope you find what you're looking for.”

It was a strange thing to say. But at that point, my desire to get as far away from this woman as possible overwhelmed all thoughts. “Thanks. Me too. Have a good one.”

I turned as quickly as I could without seeming impolite (for some reason, showing overt disrespect to this woman, regardless of my unease, seemed unwise), and walked back down to Raedeker Park.


I see this woman running often, now. Which of course shouldn't seem strange. She'd been dressed in running tights, of course. Lots of folks go running in Clifton Heights; I see them all the time. It's just odd, how often I see her. And how it seems like, even though she's never looking at me, it feels like she knows I see her.

But I'm sure that's just my imagination.

An odd news item, recently. Police found two locals' cars abandoned at the mouth of Shelby Cemetery, on Shelby Road. One of the drivers is missing. The other? Horribly mutilated. By an unidentified animal, and found on the access road in the woods, running from Shelby Road Cemetery.

I don't want to write this story.

I don't.

But I know I will.

It's what I do.

Gavin Patchett
Clifton Heights, NY

Now people, RUN don't walk to buy the collection: http://getbook.at/ThingsYouNeed

Interview with Author Ron Rash

Ron Rash is a name that I feel everyone should know. He is a gifted poet, short story writer, and novelist, and I believe one of our greatest living storytellers. His work is diverse and evocative, mining the emotional depths of the human condition. I have had the pleasure of seeing him at several events over the years, and I was delighted when he accepted my invitation to allow me to interview him for my blog. He is warm, funny, and intelligent, and below is a transcript of our conversation. Enjoy.

MAG: At what age did you start to seriously consider becoming a writer?

RR: I started later than most of my friends. Actually, I was in college before I first tried to write poetry or fiction.

MAG: You are proficient in poetry, short stories, and novels. Did you dive into all three at once, or how did that evolve?

RR: When I was in college, I pretty much did short stories and poetry together early on. I can remember of the first five or six pieces I wrote, two were poems, three or four were stories. Actually, when I first got published in my college literary journal, I had a short story and a poem in it.

MAG: When did the novels come into play?

RR: I tried to write one when I was in my late 20s and failed. I tried again in my 30s and failed, but finally in my mid-40s I felt like I’d written something that was worthwhile. That was One Foot in Eden. So yes, the novels came later.

MAG: Excellent novel, by the way. Everyone always asks who’s your favorite novelist, but I want to ask who would you say is your favorite poet?

RR: I guess if I had to pick a favorite…I don’t know how you view Shakespeare. Shakespeare, to me, is the best of everything. If I had to pick an individual poet, purely a poet, it would probably be John Keats.

MAG: Your poetry has a strong narrative drive. I am particular fond of your poetry collection Eureka Mill, which through a series of connected poems tells the story of farmers driven off their land who go to work at a mill and live in mill houses. Did you write these pieces with the intention of doing a collection, or were they written individually and just pulled together when you realized they told a cohesive story?

RR: I had seen the mill villages start to disappear, and it was almost like no one was noticing that this way of life that had been so prevalent for so many people, not just in the south but at one time in New England, was disappearing. So I wrote five or six poems, and I started to realize that maybe I could do something that would be a collection of poetry that might also have the feel of a novel, a more expansive way of telling this story. After five or six poems, I started to realize this could be something bigger. I wasn’t sure what at first, maybe a chapbook, but I kept working and I felt better and better about it. Actually, it’s getting ready to be republished as a 20th Anniversary edition. It’s coming out in October, so it’s held up pretty well. (https://www.amazon.com/Eureka-Mill-Ron-Rash/dp/1938235444/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1535483784&sr=1-2&keywords=eureka+mill)

MAG: One of my favorite novels of yours is The Cove. I found that bit of history about World War I (the American internment camps where Germans were held, and the plight of a certain German luxury liner’s crew) enlightening as I wasn’t aware of it.

RR: You’re not alone. Very few people seem to know about it.

MAG: True. The novel also spoke so eloquently of issues we face today. How much research did you do for that book?

RR: I did a huge amount. I love doing research. I’m just a curious person, and it’s always fun to learn about things I don’t know a lot about. I did a good bit of research, particularly on the ship. I actually found a book about the ship, and I had to order it from New Zealand. So yes, I did a lot of research, but also that cemetery is in Western North Carolina, pretty much near where I grew up, so I had some sense of it already. I think research is important to get the details as right as you can. You always miss something when you set a novel in a particular time, but at least I try to minimize it. And one thing I feel about this book and Serena, in particular, is that I was writing as much about the present as the past.

MAG: My next question is actually about Serena, which is perhaps the most well-known of your novels. It is excellent, and the title character is simply fascinating. When I read your collection Chemistry and Other Stories, I noticed that there was a short story called “Pemberton’s Bride” which is a shorter version of the novel, with a drastically different ending. I assume the short story came first?

RR: It’s kind of interesting. Even when I wrote that story, I already knew it was going to become a novel, but I felt like I could write something more concise and I thought that would be interesting. I was early into the novel at that time, and Rachel wasn’t even a character after the first page or two. The real change in that novel came later with Rachel. So yes, I was working on it but felt I had enough there to have a good story but all the while knowing I was going to do something more expansive. I also sort of did that same thing with the novel The World Made Straight and a short story called “Speckled Trout,” though in that instance I wrote the novel a couple of years after the short story.

MAG: Your most recently released novel, The Risen, is more contemporary than novels like Serena and The Cove. You seem to go back and forth between contemporary novels and period ones. Do you approach the writing differently when the time period you are writing about is more recent?

RR: Probably. The levels of research I have to do are different, and with contemporary novels I’m relying more on personal memory. Particularly in The Risen. In 1968 I was fourteen years old, and I really had that sense Eugene had, of all this amazing change and the love generation and optimism. But I was in a very small, conservative area in Western North Carolina, a small town of I guess 800 people, so it was like it was happening everywhere but there, but I was listening to the music, and as I say in the novel it was really like I was getting messages in a bottle from this other place. So certainly personal experience probably plays more of a role in that novel than any other novel I’ve written. I would say far more, actually.

MAG: It has one of the most beautiful endings I’ve ever read.

RR: Thank you. That book did not do as well as I might have liked, but I feel like it holds up. I think it’s a book that if you read it a second time, it may open up in ways the reader might have missed the first time. My goal was to write a book where the second reading, maybe even the third, would be where something really happens to the reader.

MAG: I will definitely be rereading it. In an interview, I heard you talk about short stories, saying that you believe them to be America’s great contribution to literature. I wondered if you could expound on that a bit. For instance, who do you think have been the most influential American short story writers?

RR: I think we can start with Poe, certainly. His influence on the French has been incredible. In a sense, he really was one of the most important short story writers and innovators. His short stories have been a great contribution to world literature, and then you see Hawthorne coming later. I think Hemmingway certainly has had a huge impact on world literature, particularly his short stories. And more recently Raymond Carver, and of course Flannery O’Connor continues to have a huge effect even outside the United States. I don’t know of a country that has produced greater short story writers. I think when we look at America’s great contribution to literature, to me it is pretty obviously the short story.

MAG: Short fiction is challenging, in that you have a smaller canvas on which to work yet still need to create a full world and authentic characters and a satisfying conclusion. Do you have any particular techniques you use to accomplish this, or do you trust completely to instinct?

RR: I just go by instinct, but I will say that almost every writer I’ve heard who does both will agree that to write a good short story is harder than writing a good novel. It’s not something I really want to think about too much. I really do want it to be intuitive, and the stories tend to almost always start with an image and then I just let it go where it will go. I’ve learned to trust that. The one thing I never do, though I did this early on until I learned it was exactly what was stifling me, is try to plot out a story. That, for me, doesn’t work. It’s almost as if you’re putting it all on a single rail, and those swerve moments that are unexpected are the moments that the short story really works. I work by intuition, even with novels. Everything I write starts with an image, Serena started with just an image of a woman on horseback.

MAG: As an avid lover of short fiction, I wondered if you had any other collections in the works?

RR: Absolutely. I’ve got one pretty much finished up. I’ve got twelve stories, and actually I’m probably going to have a novella where I bring back Serena to finish up her last job, which in the novel is left undone. She comes back from Brazil, but the story is actually focused much more on the loggers. In a sense, she’s not much more than a presence because it’s really about the logger Ross. I get into his backstory. So the collection is pretty much done. Over half the stories have been published. One just came out a week or two ago in Ploughshares, probably the one I think is the best. (https://www.amazon.com/Ploughshares-Summer-2018-Guest-Edited-McCorkle-ebook/dp/B07FMRJ342/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1535484146&sr=1-1&keywords=ploughshares) I’ve been working on a novel as well, and I’ve got a new publisher so they want the novel first since it’s my first book with them.

MAG: Do you remember your first public appearance as an author? If so, what stands out about the experience?

RR: My first public appearance as a writer was at the New York Public Library. I’m not kidding. That was the first reading I ever did. The first or second short story I ever published, I think it was the very first actually, was in a small literary magazine in North Carolina, but at that time General Electric had a Young Writers Award for writers under 40. They nominated it, and somehow incredibly it was selected by the judges. I think there were six of us who won. Rick Bass won, Rita Dove. There was a $5,000 first prize, and my first child had just been born. I said, “Can you just send me the check?” I didn’t want to go to New York, but they said, “No, you’ve got to come.” So I went up there and did the reading at the New York Public Library. That was my first reading. It’s funny, because I’m an introvert. I can fake it, but I remember thinking, Nobody up here knows me. If I screw this up completely, no one will know about it.

MAG: I believe you’ve done some events outside the country. Where’s the farthest you’ve traveled to promote your work?

RR: New Zealand. My books have done well in Australia and New Zealand. They’ve done well in Europe and China. Which I think is what you hope for as a writer. I’ve always had problems when people call me a “regional writer” because I think in a sense almost all of us are regional writers. James Joyce writes about a region. He’s as local and regional as you can get. All his books take place in Dublin. I think ultimately your goal, at least my goal, is to write stories that while very much of a particular place and culture transcend it at the same time. As I tell people, I think ultimately what I’m trying to do is capture something of what it feels like to be alive in the world.

MAG: I think really great fiction is universal, and yours certainly is.

RR: I hope there is a sense of that. Certainly I use a lot of world mythology, and I’m aware of it from different cultures. I’m pretty much a Jungian, and I’m pretty interested in the collective unconscious. The idea that certain archetypes are instilled in us that we all share, and I think a lot of times what the writer does is touch on those archetypes. It’s not so much that you’re doing it deliberately, but I think the reader senses, “This feels right. It feels true.” A lot of times it is not just human experience, but a kind of resonance from that type of archetypal aspect of our consciousness.

MAG: I’ve noticed you have little to no online presence, something I admire and sort of envy. I know from experience that these days publishers like their authors to do a lot of self-promotion on social media. Do you get pressure from your publisher to be more active on social media platforms?

RR: I think they’ve pretty much resolved that I’m not going to do that. I feel like the best thing I can do for my audience, my readers, is to put all my energy into writing the best book I can. Social media is just not something that feels right for me. Whether others do it is their business, obviously. I don’t do Facebook or any of that, it doesn’t interest me.

MAG: You seem to do a lot of appearances in the area, though.

RR: Yes, that’s different. People invite me, and I do a good number of fundraisers. A lot of times I do it because I want to support independent bookstores. Particularly in this region my books sell pretty well, so I know if I go to an independent that will help them. And I’ve done two literacy fundraisers in the last month, so I’ll do fundraisers for causes I believe in. Those are the kinds of appearances I usually do.

MAG: For fans who are interested in keeping up with your upcoming works, what would you recommend as the best way to keep abreast of your latest releases?

RR: My Amazon author page has all my work, and any new works I have coming out will be added. (https://www.amazon.com/Ron-Rash/e/B001IQX8XQ/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1535484189&sr=1-2-ent)

I want to thank Mr. Rash for taking the time to speak with me. His work is widely available, and I encourage everyone to give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Dog Days o' Summer - An Interview with my collaborator, James Newman

Earlier this year Cemetery Dance released a limited hardcover of Dog Days o' Summer, the werewolf novel that James Newman and I co-wrote together. That edition was actually sold out in pre-order before it was ever actually released. But Unnerving Press is now releasing the book in paperback and digital editions, meaning it can finally find a wider audience. To celebrate, I did a little interview with James Newman to talk about the book and how we came to work on it together.

MAG: When you approached me about collaborating, you already had the idea for DOG DAYS O’ SUMMER, as well as some of the first chapter written. Where did the initial idea for this story come from?

JN: This first question is easy. This one sprang from a love for coming-of-age tales, and a desire to write a cool werewolf story. I was excited to write about a guy who was not only a reluctant villain, but one who would be confronted by protagonists who didn’t want to hurt him if they had been given any other choice. It’s right there on the first page – our main character idolized this guy. I found that to be an intriguing dilemma for our hero, right off the bat. Thankfully my soon-to-be co-writer did as well.

MAG: Except for a couple of short stories, I had never really delved into the werewolf mythos before this. Had you written much werewolf fiction before this?

JN: Years ago, before I really started doing this professionally, I did start a werewolf novel called CHILDREN OF THE MOON. It eventually turned into something called THE PACK. There were some pretty cool ideas in it that have always stayed with me. I’ve thought a few times that they might be worth revisiting someday – who knows.

MAG: There is a lot of werewolf fiction out there. I have enjoyed books as diverse as Robert McCammon’s THE WOLF'S HOUR and Anne Rice’s THE WOLVES OF MIDWINTER. I was wondering what are some of your favorite werewolf tales?

JN: My favorite is definitely John Skipp & Craig Spector’s ANIMALS. I’ve been planning to re-read that soon, as a matter of fact. Such a great book. King’s CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF is worth a mention as well, obviously. You mentioned THE WOLF’S HOUR – I love that one too. Ray Garton’s RAVENOUS, which treats the shapeshifter’s curse like an STD. That was neat. I want to mention that the late, great Bernie Wrightson did a lot of amazing werewolf artwork that has always been very influential to me too, and not just in regards to DOG DAYS O’ SUMMER. His lycanthropes are the most vicious, bloodthirsty, TERRIFYING creatures you’ll ever see in that medium. Those things would take off your head with a flick of one hairy wrist before your mind could even wrap around what was standing in front of you.

MAG: Thinking back to my childhood, I think my first real exposure to the idea of werewolves was in the movie THE MONSTER SQUAD of all things. Do you remember your first exposure to the werewolf?

JN: I’m not 100% sure about this, but I’m thinking it was probably those old orange-and-black Crestwood books about the classic monster movies, specifically the one that focused on THE WOLF MAN. Along with the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK books, that series of books played a huge part in shaping me into the horror fan/creator I am today.

MAG: From my perspective, our collaboration went incredibly smoothly. My favorite parts were the initial brainstorming sessions, bouncing ideas off each other that made the story evolve and expand, as well as each time I’d get one of your installments and see what great ideas you were bringing to the table. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the collaboration, and your favorite parts.

JN: Well, of course I had a blast. You and I work very well together and – I’m not just saying this – it was without a doubt one of the smoothest, most stress-free collaborations I’ve ever been a part of. As far as favorite parts? I love the back-and-forth banter between the boys. I think it feels very real. I also adore Mr. Martinsen and would even go so far to say that he’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever (co)written. I can imagine looking up to him just like our protagonists did, if I was that age and he was my teacher. It’s a shame he held such a terrible secret, and did such godawful things. Then again, if not for his . . . er . . . nocturnal hobbies, I guess we wouldn’t have a book, now would we?

MAG: We tried to deliver a werewolf tale with some traditional thrills while also putting our own stamp on it, twisting the myth and introducing some new wrinkles into it. What do you think is the most innovative thing the story brings to the werewolf mythos?

JN: Definitely the stuff about the “dog days of summer” and where that phrase comes from. I’m not sure that’s ever been done before. I like that little “injection of reality” into an otherwise impossible, supernatural tale. I also really dig how we treated the shapeshifter’s curse like an STD – while we weren’t the first to do that (as I mentioned above regarding Ray Garton’s book), it really works for our antagonist and the poor sap’s backstory. I’ll stop there. Plenty of folks out there haven’t read the book yet, so God forbid I ruin anything for them.

MAG: I know this territory has been mined quite a bit, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. As we neared the end of the collaboration, you had an accident that left you injured and you were actually recovering as we put the finishing touches on the story. What was it like, trying to work when you were in pain and trying to heal? Was it at all helpful?

JN: It wasn’t as difficult as you might think. It was a great way to fill each day, being out of work for six months and doing nothing but lying around eating pain pills like they were Skittles. If nothing else, it paid off a lot more in the long run than just watching Netflix all day! I think, because I was on medical leave from my day job, it enabled me to devote a lot more time to DOG DAYS than I could have otherwise (because you know, possibly more than anyone else, how slowly and I work, and how horribly unprolific I am!). That said, I did always have to “second-guess” myself and make sure I wasn’t writing a bunch of nonsensical gibberish thanks to the aforementioned pain pills. Thank goodness I had you keeping me in check all the way.

MAG: Standard question, but one I know I’m curious to know the answer to as a fan of your work. What are you currently working on?

JN: I’m finishing up a few short stories that I’ve been asked to submit to various anthologies and such, as well as starting on another novella collaboration with Mark Steensland (apparently I have a weird fetish for working with guys named Mark –LOL). Following on the heels of our erotic horror story THE SPECIAL, which folks should be able to read very soon, our next project is a coming-of-age suspense tale called IN THE SCRAPE. I think fans of MIDNIGHT RAIN and ODD MAN OUT are going to be pretty crazy for it when all is said and done. I hope so, anyway!

DOG DAYS O' SUMMER can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DCFMRRW/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i3
You can find more work by James Newman here: https://www.amazon.com/James-Newman/e/B0082Z5L18/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_7?qid=1533491292&sr=1-7

Brian Hodge Interview

I've been a fan of Brian Hodge's work for many years now. Recently I read his excellent Cemetery Dance novella I'll Bring You the Birds from Out of the Sky and was reminded that he is one of the most talented wordsmiths working today. I asked him if he'd let me interview him for my blog and I was delighted that he said yes.

MAG: Was there a particular book or author that inspired you in your youth to want to become a writer?

BH: Not really, no. It was ingrained from such an early age that I had trouble imagining any other primary path. I itched to write as a preschooler, even before I’d been taught the alphabet.

MAG: Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? If so, what can you tell us about it?

BH: That would’ve been in second grade, when I wrote this piece about a rowboat of guys shipwrecked on an island, then they’re all eaten by monsters. Monsters that were probably inspired by dinosaurs. When you’re in second grade, you have to illustrate your stories, you know. It’s all about the drawings. The red crayon really took a beating that day.

MAG: What was your first story sale?

BH: If you don’t count prizewinners in high school and college literary magazines, that was “Oasis,” to David B. Silva’s magazine The Horror Show. That was the first sale of a manuscript I’d shipped off to a stranger across the country.

MAG: I believe you sold your very first novel. How did that come about?

BH: Also named Oasis, because it grew directly out of the story. I’d gone to this weeklong intensive in Boston called the New England Writers Conference. For our workshops and nightly homework, I did additional exercises with the story’s characters, and found I wasn’t ready to turn loose of them yet. My workshop leader was a Harvard professor and writer and former editor, and she met one-on-one with everybody in her group. As luck would have it, she met with me the final morning, so she’d had all week to gauge what I was doing. Over our breakfast meeting, she said, “You’re ready to be doing novels now.” My reaction was, “Are you serious? I’m just out of college.” But she was so adamant that she gave me a list of literary agents she was acquainted with, as a place to start once I had something to show them. She only did that for three of us out of twenty-some people. The agent who sold the novel to Tor was on that list.

MAG: I first became aware of you during the Dell Abyss days. Specifically I picked up your novel The Darker Saints, which remains one of my favorite novels with one of the most emotionally raw and authentic endings I’ve ever read. I thought Abyss was a line that really put out a lot of quality work. Can you talk a little bit about your experiences there?

BH: It was the right thing at the right time, and I loved being a part of it, and was fortunate to be there from the start. To this day I adore our editor there, Jeanne Cavelos, and always will, for being a friend as well as an editor, and for what I learned from working with her and what she instilled in me. This was early enough that I still needed some of the ego beaten out of me, and Jeanne was great about doing that in a gentle, diplomatic, stealth way. She was one of those editors who really brought out the best in you, and I always got the sense that she cared deeply about all her authors, whether they were onboard for one book or four. The convention panels and signings and other events she would organize were always fun, too. So it created a real shared experience that I’ve found to have had permanent benefits.

MAG: The Darker Saints, while not a direct sequel to your novel Nightlife, does feature the same two main characters in a new adventure. When you were writing Nightlife, did you know you were going to revisit those characters, or how did the idea for The Darker Saints come about?

BH: While writing Nightlife, I always considered it self-contained. I thought Justin and April would be left standing under the St. Pete end of the Tampa Bay bridge forever, and it was up to you to decide whether they shot each other or forgave one another their transgressions.

Next was Deathgrip, and then I started developing the core idea for The Darker Saints. I knew it was going to be more like Nightlife, a hybrid of crime and horror. I knew it was going to involve an organized crime mob in New Orleans that took a page from Haiti’s Tonton Macoute, in that they used voodoo as a weapon of terror and coercion. As I started fleshing out the factions and their conflicts, the story eventually opened up and invited Justin and April in. In hindsight, it made perfect sense, and I loved going back to them, even if it broke my heart by the end.

MAG: One of the protagonists of this novel works in the advertising field, and I actually found the bits with him coming up with a new coffee campaign rather interesting in their own right. Did you do much research into advertising?

BH: I didn’t have to. It was my background. Advertising was my major at the University of Illinois. At the time, at least, it was one of the top programs in the country for that particular academic track. The coffee thing was an extrapolation of a smaller project my senior year. I was writing these novels close enough to my college years that I cannibalized a lot of things from them. Same as how I used the Amazonian Yanomamö tribe as a central part of Nightlife. I knew about them from an extended study in my sophomore year anthropology course.

MAG: Last Darker Saints question, I swear, but there was a bit with a cat and a guy’s nose that was the kind of thing that one isn’t likely to forget. Where in your deep and fertile imagination did that come from?

BH: Half crime novel, remember? I was reading a lot of whacked-out crime novels at the time — Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, James Hall, Joe Lansdale, and so on — and it was fun to inject a bit of that flavor into The Darker Saints. With that scene I was actually solving a tonal challenge: Justin needs some fast answers, and the colleague he needs them from isn’t talking, but the guy’s really just a weasel who’s in over his head, and doesn’t deserve to be harmed. So how do you subject him to enhanced interrogation to get him talking, without completely losing sympathy for Justin? That was my solution. Take this cat in heat and drape her over the guy’s face. Play it for sick laughs.

MAG: Your final Dell book was called Prototype. I really liked this one, particularly when your character spoke of his youth and the pain he went through during that time of his life. I related to that on a very personal level. I also recall that you had some lesbian characters featured in this one, and I’ve read some short stories where you’ve used gay male characters. You were actually one of the earliest straight male authors I remember utilizing LGBT characters, and I commend you for that. Was this an intentional decision or just something that came naturally to you? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

BH: It was never an intentional approach, at least in the sense of something like a quota system. It’s always been more about being true to characters as they materialize and show up for work, and this seems to be who they are. Either that, or it’s something baked in from the start by the idea itself, or the milieu. Something like “Little Holocausts,” that couldn’t be about anyone else but gay men. Either way, I’m not going to turn them away any more than I would in 3-D life. To me, characters are first and foremost human beings before they’re ever a part of a demographic.

MAG: Another thing that has always impressed me about you is that you write a lot of short stories. I’m a short story lover, and I believe you are one of the best short story writers working today. Some writers, once they start publishing novels, turn away from the short form. What is it about short fiction that keeps you coming back?

BH: Loads of reasons. Bottom line, I like the form. Beyond that? Editors keep asking me to do them. I like being a part of good anthologies, books I’d want to read anyway even if I wasn’t contributing to them. Maybe an invitation to this project or that sparks an idea I wouldn’t have had otherwise, so now there’s a responsibility to that idea to bring it into fruition. Not every idea warrants a novel-length exploration, and I don’t discriminate, or think, oh, this isn’t worth the time. Short story, novelette, novella, novel … it doesn’t matter. I love them all. Mostly I want to do justice to the ideas, bring them to form and let them fill whatever space they need.

Plus I’ve come to think of shorter fiction as playing an ambassadorial role. Readers who’ve never heard of you might encounter you in short form, audition you for a half-hour, then decide to move on to your novels and collections. I know that happens, because people tell me about it.

And, finally, you never know what’s going to click in the right place at the right time. A few years ago, I did a piece called “The Same Deep Waters As You,” for the third and final volume of editor Stephen Jones’ trilogy of anthologies involving Lovecraft’s town of Innsmouth. I was just stoked to be a part of the project itself. But then the story was printed and reprinted four times within about a year, in multiple formats, so it alone has brought in more income than a lot of people see from a novel. Now it’s been optioned for development as a TV series by a London-based production company. You just never know. All I can do is go all-in on the project at hand, and whatever happens, happens.

MAG: While we’re on the topic of short stories, I have to ask about your story “Asleep at the Wheel” from the anthology Freddy Krueger’s Seven Sweetest Dreams. As a huge fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, I ate this anthology up, and “Asleep at the Wheel”, which wove in rock’n’roll and Nancy Thompson’s house, was a favorite of mine. How did you come to take part in this project?

BH: Somehow, really early on, I fell into the good graces of the editor, Martin H. Greenberg. The best description I ever heard of him was that he was a human book factory. He edited or co-edited or compiled nearly 1300 anthologies. Marty had asked me into a few projects, and I never said no, and gave him 100% of what I was capable of generating at any given time. So when the Nightmare on Elm Street book came along, he must’ve trusted me enough to pull it off under bonkers conditions. From invitation to delivery was ten days.

Weirdly enough, it turned into one of the most exhilarating creative experiences I’ve ever had. I spent the first few days planning, bingeing all the movies that were out at the time, and making notes. What worked for me? What didn’t? One thing that gnawed at me, at least with the later movies, was their Breakfast Club approach to characters. I’d be thinking, hmm, it’s a stretch that these people would ever voluntarily hang out together. That was how I gravitated toward a more unified cast of characters, this ethereal goth-rock band, so they’d have various creative and personal dynamics going on, all within their overarching collective dream.

So, five days planning, then I went on an overnight campout next to a lake with friends, and blew my brains out with tequila. Got up the next morning, chugged a bottle of Gatorade, and went home and got to work. I lived and breathed and ate it for five days, and finished with an all-nighter. After I sent it off, I took my pistol and some cans out to a remote spot and blew through two boxes of ammunition, to vent off steam, then came home and slept for about 20 hours. It was an amazing experience.

MAG: In 2010, you released a digital short called “Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Walls” which subsequently got reprinted in a few Best Of anthologies as well as made into an audio story which is still available on Pseudopod (http://pseudopod.org/2012/08/17/pseudopod-295-just-outside-our-windows-deep-inside-our-walls/). It is an emotionally affecting tale of troubled children seeking escape. Where did you get the inspiration for that one?

BH: It came out of something I almost never do. I never write disembodied fragments that don’t belong to some larger context. Except this time I did. I’d reread Thomas Ligotti’s first collection, Songs of a Dead Dreamer, and it was like there was some residue left behind that needed an outlet of expression. So out popped that narrative of the boy’s imaginary magic show, where he sawed people into pieces and recombined them to the delight of his audience. The imagery and feel seemed very Ligotti to me. Then it sat hibernating on the hard drive for two or three years before I went back to it. It was probably necessary to give the initial connection to Ligotti time to fade, because I didn’t want to mimic him the whole time. I had to get back to approaching it as myself again. That upstairs room, that was my room for a time. That park was the park I grew up next to. That was my fingernail scratching the frost off the inside of the glass of the dormer windows.

MAG: A novel of yours I absolutely love is Wild Horses. It’s a fun and exciting caper type novel with a lot of humor in it. I thought you handled it expertly, delivering an engaging and satisfying read. At the time it was considered a bit of a departure for you. Can you tell me a little about the inspiration for that one, and was it as much fun for you to write as it was for us to read?

BH: The first seed was a one-off line in an article I’d read, that mentioned two women in a bar fight in this desert town. For whatever reason, that stuck in my filter. I kept wondering, who are these women? Why are they fighting? How did they end up in this dusty little dead-end town? I wrote it up as a novelette, and awhile later Doli and I were with some friends on a cross-country road trip. My friend Amy read it along the way and put the idea in my head that the story could keep going.

It was the ideal time to hear that. This was right after I finished Prototype. Back then, I didn’t know how to do something like those Dell Abyss novels other than living them on the inside, sort of like method acting, and experiencing the characters’ traumas as if they were my own. I’d live like that for months. Each book got darker, and each one required a longer recovery period. Doli was to the point of thinking, “I don’t think I can go through this with him again,” which was a terrible position for me to have put her in.

So it was just as much a move of self-preservation. I was afraid if I kept going the way I had been, either the next novel would turn into a self-parody, or I would self-destruct. Take your pick. OK, then, time for something completely different. I’ve been reading a lot of whacked-out crime novels? Let me try writing a whacked-out crime novel.

And yeah, it was a load of fun. I’ve never had characters take over to any greater degree than this crew did. It was like every morning they would throw me in the trunk of a car and we’d get a little farther down the road.

MAG: Your most recent release is the novel The Immaculate Void, out through ChiZine. If I’m remembering correctly, originally this was going to be the name of a short story collection. Could you tell me how it evolved into a full-fledged novel?

BH: It was an accident. I’d contracted with Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi, of ChiZine Publications, for my fifth collection. The master plan was to return to the approach I used with the first two. The Convulsion Factory and Falling Idols were both thematic collections that concluded with a chunky new novella that resynthesized and echoed a lot of the themes of the foregoing stories.

I’ve been prone to going through phases, and over the past several years I’ve been big into a cosmic horror phase, so this new collection would reflect this. I had the title, The Immaculate Void, and for the concluding novella I was using the Latin translation, “Vacuum Immaculatum.”

Then I got to work on it, and it just kept going. It kept not ending. It finally came in about three times the length I thought it might be. When I turned in the full manuscript, I didn’t feel right about it. The balance was off. As a book, it was now this lopsided mutant. What I wasn’t ready to admit to myself was that it was a story collection bolted onto the front of a novel, and each half robbed the other of some of its identity and impact.

After a few days, Brett asked me, “How long is this new piece?” When I told him, he came back with, “That’s a novel!” To my enduring gratitude, he and Sandra decided the best solution was to make two books out of it, so each component could stand as its own thing. I had a new novelette called “One Last Year Without a Summer” that was perfect to bat cleanup for the reconfigured collection, which got a new title, Skidding Into Oblivion, and was rescheduled for next February. Everything is all the better for handling it that way.

MAG: Could you tell me a little about the inspiration for The Immaculate Void?

BH: Before I even had a story, the underlying aim was to grapple with an inner conflict I was feeling. If cosmic horror has a central tenet, it’s the meaningless of life and human existence. But it’s not just on the page … some of the key writers mining this vein, and readers, really hold that view. This was part of H.P. Lovecraft’s makeup, and as much as I respect his work, I don’t think I’ve ever read an interview with Thomas Ligotti where I didn’t come away feeling miserable.

But that’s never been my own outlook. I’ve just found it useful sometimes to work as-if. A lot of what I’ve done involves characters who find the meaning in the events they’re caught up in, or create their own meaning. In early preparation, I read some anti-natalist stuff — the philosophy that it’s better to have never been born. I develop ideas by having conversations with myself on yellow legal pads, and the first thing I wrote when I started making notes was “anti-anti-natalist.”

Then while I was first trawling for ideas, I came across one of the phrases allegedly back-masked into “Stairway to Heaven”: There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer. Again, caught in the filters. The rest of what people think they hear in backwards “Stairway” I find silly, but that phrase creeps the shit out of me.

So I got to thinking, okay, suppose you have this little girl, she comes within moments of being murdered in this archetypal toolshed. Are you going to tell her, her brother, her family, that it’s objectively meaningless whether she came out alive or not? Are you going to tell the families of the earlier kids who didn’t make it that it doesn’t matter? Are you going to maintain that with people who had no connection to any of it, but were horrified and appalled simply because they’re fellow, feeling human beings? Then I got to thinking in terms of meaning playing out on a timescale that makes even the age of our universe a blip. It unfurled from there.

MAG: How long did it take you to complete the first draft of The Immaculate Void? Did you do much revision and editing after, or did you do that as you went along?

BH: I’m not sure … it took a lot of months, not including a break in the middle to work on other obligations. But none of the usual norms applied here. I started developing the idea and writing shortly after I had an accident that ripped up my left patellar tendon. I spent months having to work at the dining room table because, in the leg brace, I couldn’t fit at my desk.

Worse than that was the loss of energy and focus. I’m used to working out pretty avidly, and at the time was training for my brown belt test in Krav Maga. When you’re abruptly cut off from that level of activity, you go through what’s essentially a neurological withdrawal. Your brain chemistry changes. So everything took longer, and wore me out easier, and I was already doing therapy exercises three times a day. I had to swim against that for roughly the latter half of 2016.

But once the draft was done, it was mostly done. I tend to do all the heavy lifting upfront, to get as much right the first time as I can. After that, it’s mainly repeated tweaking and pruning and polishing, and later on, Sandra helped bring it the final yards with a few good editorial pointers.

MAG: What was your writing process like for this one? Did you have a set schedule?

BH: While I started out hobbled, by the end, I was more or less back at my usual methodology, and it was some of the reading I did while laid up that helped me refine it further. I’m totally sold on the power of a great morning routine. I get up around 5:30 and head outside, usually, for a run or a session with the jump rope. This summer, I’ve stepped that up to the Tough Mudder training regimen. Then I’m back inside for a green drink and a cold shower. It all leaves me feeling turbocharged. Doli’s made the coffee during that time, and then I get after the day’s word count. That’s the ideal, anyway. Everything got rocked again after I lost both my parents in April — the day The Immaculate Void was published, I woke up to the news that my mom had just died. So as the executor of their estate, I’m still contending with the responsibilities of that. It’ll be a while yet before life is entirely back to normal.

MAG: Brian, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your work.

BH: I’m happy to do it. It’s a lot more fun than chatting with insurance companies and the IRS.

If you haven't read Brian Hodge yet, you need to. You can find his work here: https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B000AP1SVU?_encoding=UTF8&node=283155&offset=0&pageSize=12&sort=author-pages-popularity-rank&page=1#formatSelectorHeader

Submitted For Your Approval - My Biggest Influence

Every writer has a laundry list of influences. I could name off quite a few names of writers who inspired and helped shape me as a storyteller. However, my first influence – and perhaps to this day still my biggest influence – wasn’t another writer. It was a TV Show.

The Twilight Zone.

I grew up in the 1980s, so I binged on both the original 1960s version as well as the 80s incarnation. And I loved both. Yes, the original series is the best, but I think the 80s version has a lot of great episodes and really pulled from literary talent the same as the original.

Something about these stories really appealed to me. It wasn’t horror of the in-your-face variety, but something more subtle. More a sense of the surreal, of a recognizable world gone slightly off-kilter in a way that at first the characters (and the viewer) had trouble putting their finger on. Instead of a sudden startling scare that gets a jump then a laugh, The Twilight Zone was more about disquieting situations that left you unsettled in a way that lingered and stayed with you long after the episode was over. The endings also often featured surprising or ironic twists that I found thrilling.

At around ten, I started penning these little one-page stories that were basically Twilight Zone knockoffs. The only one I remember in any detail was called “Laura or Horror?” So that gives you an idea of how cheesy they were. But my love of The Twilight Zone was cemented, and it became a part of me.

So that as I got older and became more serious about writing, and began to develop my craft, the influence the show had on me was bound to come out. It’s not like I’m trying to mimic or anything of the sort, it’s more a general atmosphere and feel. I have internalized the idea of subtle horror, the sense of surrealism and irony. Many of my stories strive to disquiet and unsettle.

I don’t mean to suggest I’m on the same level of quality as Rod Serling’s seminal classic show. I merely mean the show has been a huge influence on me. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if not for the time I spent in The Twilight Zone.

Returning to My First Love

Just this week I wrote THE END on the first draft of my most recent novel, BEFORE HE WAKES. I will let it sit for a while before I go back to it with the objectivity of time and distance and start the polish/editing process.

Even as I was nearing the end of the novel, working on the final chapters, I began to turn my mind toward what my next project would be. Sometimes I know well before I finish my current work-in-progress what I want to do next, but this time I was at a bit of a loss.

Not because of a lack of ideas. I have many ideas for novels and novellas, but there’s no one idea that has stepped forward from the pack and infected me with a sense of urgency that it is the one above all others that must be written.

Once BEFORE HE WAKES was done, I started to realize why that was. I was looking for the next long project, a novel or novella, but that wasn’t where my imagination was leading me. Instead, it was crying out for short stories.

I’ve always been a writer (and reader, for that matter) who has enjoyed short stories. In fact, they are my greatest passion as a storyteller. I enjoy working on larger canvases, but nothing brings me more pleasure than short fiction. There was a time in my life where I wrote almost nothing but short fiction.

However, in recent years I’ve focused more and more on longer works. I don’t regret that, it’s important to stretch as an artist and I’m proud of the novels and novellas I’ve produced, but the fact is my short story output has suffered. I’ve worked them in here and there, but they’ve not been my focus in a long time.

So before I move on to another novel or novella, I’ve decided the time has come to block off a substantial amount of time to just work on short fiction. I have so many ideas that have built up over the last couple of years that I’ll never want for material.

Now that I’ve actually made that decision, I am absurdly excited. In a weird way, it feels like returning to my roots, rediscovering my first love. Short fiction won’t just be something I try to fit in between longer projects, but short fiction will BE the project.

So I’m thinking that from now until the end of the year, my focus will be exclusively on short stories. I’ve already written an odd narrative poem called “I Molded a Man of Dirt and Clay” and am working on a strange tragic romance called “The Tooth.” I have so many more lining up in my mind, demanding attention. “Redman,” “If Wishes Were Horses,” “Stealing Wishes,” “Around the Loop,” “Favored,” “Dead Baby Blues,” “Pink Applesauce”…just a few of the titles I’m looking forward to getting down on paper.

I will file away the novel and novella ideas I have and their time will come, but that time is not now. Now is the time for short stories.

Interview with Aaron Dries

My good friend, sometimes collaborator, and all around talented guy Aaron Dries recently re-released his debut novel HOUSE OF SIGHS through Crystal Lake Publishing. I read this book when it was originally released years ago and was blown away by it, making me an instant fan. This new edition contains a bonus novella which acts as a sequel to the novel, and I think "The Sound of His Bones Breaking" is actually even more powerful. I jumped at the chance to interview him again for my blog

How did it come about that Crystal Lake put out a new edition of your debut novel, House of Sighs?

Aaron: My association with Crystal Lake began a few years back when I was approached by one of their editors to contribute to a Tales From the Lake anthology. That was accepted and subsequently well-received (thank goodness - so nerve-wracking). That story was shortlisted by Ellen Datlow for her Best Horror of the Year list, which was nice. Continuing on from that, there was my collaboration with yourself, Where the Dead Go to Die, which Joe was extremely enthusiastic about. From that, I pitched a Sighs reprint, and sweetened the deal with a sequel novella idea for a two-in-one edition. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tell us a little about the inspiration behind the included novella, The Sound of His Bones Breaking.

Aaron: I'd been sitting on an idea for a Sighs sequel for about four years. But ideas are disparate things, floating around in the ether, and they rarely work until they click with another such disparate train of thought. When these random strains come together, it's like a physical click I can feel in my body. At that point, I know I've got to get writing. The recent instigator was an actual experience of mine. A couple of Christmases ago, I was catching up with a friend up the coast here in Australia. It was late at night and we were drinking beers in an open bar overlooking a street in the rough part of town. People were mulling about, waiting for taxis and their Ubers. One taxi driver pulled up and he was obviously drunk, and intoxicated patrons were filing into his backseat - total recipe for disaster. A street brawl broke out right in front of us. Afterwards, the 'click' came, and I set myself to work.

Had you ever written a sequel to one of your works before?

Aaron: Technically no. However, House of Sighs and The Fallen Boys and A Place for Sinners all interconnect in little ways that very few people have picked up on. There are cross-over characters in all of these books - and The Sound of His Bones Breaking, the sequel to House of Sighs, summarizes all of these intersections in one, tying up this universe in a neat little bow.

What were some of the challenges returning to a familiar character and world?

Aaron: I had no problems with it at all. I've known that I would be writing about this character (and I'm being deliberately elusive here for fear of spoilers). If anything, I was hungry for it. I knew I wanted to explore the themes of trauma and denial. This character was, in a very sad way, kind of predestined to evolve in such a way, and into such a book. Those slowly breaking bones have been splintering since the beginning.

As an openly gay man, do you feel that aspect of yourself has an influence on your writing? If so, how?

Aaron: I absolutely do. I prescribe to the Jack Ketchum mode of inspiration, which encourages you to be brave and "write from the wound." Western society is changing, and civil liberties LGBTIQ citizens have been fighting for are being slowly awarded across the world. But there is still a long way to go. For those who think otherwise, I'd argue they're living under a heavily insulated dome of privilege. But things are evolving. I think it's important for younger gay writers to write about their experiences, their hurts, the stuff that makes them angry, because there's a complacency that's slowly evolving in the creative arts, as potential writers slowly stop reading and happily bypass the creative process by diving onto social media to vent their frustrations. I think we have a duty to write from that still bleeding wound, and to write our stories well. Doing so honors those who have come before us, and if we're lucky, may inspire others to world-build themselves. Because, let's face it, our worlds are different. LGBTIQ people are wonderfully other in some ways; experiences and a history of systematic prejudice naturally dictates that (for some). Consequently, our fiction feels different, too. That's why diversity in the field SHOULD be encouraged. Who wants to go to the bookstore and unearth the same kind of diluted, slowly quietening voice? Diversity will keep this industry alive and it's great to see mid-list genre fiction in particular embracing this change (mostly). I refuse to believe that people who have had to re-evaluate their lives because of factors completely out of their control, whose identities have been challenged, and who have been hurt by others... have nothing to say. To some degree, that's a wound too. But not all wounds are bad. Just as not all fiction written from between those stitches are good, either. But damn it, try.

Definitely agree, which is why I've tried to get a movement started on social media, #LGBTinHorror, to highlight some of those disparate voices. Who are some of your favorite gay horror authors?

Aaron: One of my favorite gay horror authors is Michael McDowell. I think there's an erudite wit to his work, a dry sense of observation that comes from someone who feels like an outsider looking in at the worlds they know so very well yet feel somewhat separate from. His work is by turns chilling and hilarious, lush and then sparse. He is an author of contradictions, who somehow made those contradictions his brand. There's that delightful otherness that doesn't feel deliberate, nor conceited, just really rather honest. There's something deliciously inspiring about that. For new readers, I'd check out his Blackwater series, Cold Moon Over Babylon, or my favourite, The Elementals.

Since this new edition contains a sequel, tell me about some of your favorite literary sequels?

Aaron: Sequels fascinate me. I love the weight of expectation between what a readers wants and what a writer wants to create. That relationship is so precarious and interesting to me. In some ways, it's the wait and processing of a sequel that blows my mind. Some big ones for me are Psycho 2 by Robert Bloch (which for those who don't know, has nothing to do with the film Psycho II) - it's a vicious book, satirical, and is jammed with some genuine surprises. Hannibal by Thomas Harris is another one. What an ending!

Do you have a particular writing regime? If so, can you describe it?

Aaron: I'm an opportunistic writer. I write on trains, in lunch breaks, whilst traveling, in bed, over breakfast. If I don't have my laptop, I write longhand or on my phone. My routine is no routine. That way, I rob myself of excuses not to write.

What was the first book you read for pleasure that wasn't a child's picture book?

Aaron: I'm not too sure, but were I to hazard a guess, I'd say it would've been something by R.L. Stine. From that period, Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement resonated with me.

How old were you when you wrote your first story?

Aaron: I started off writing and illustrating Batman and Ninja Turtles comics for my family and friends. Only all the villains were monsters! So I guess my interests were there right from the beginning.

Does your family support your literary pursuits?

Aaron: Yes, they do. It's not to everyone's taste, which is totally fine. But they're very supportive. My grandmother, bless her, almost passed out when I told her I'd co-written a book with my buddy Mark called Where the Dead Go to Die. "Oh, why can't you write something nice, Aaron? Gosh. Now send me a copy so I can put it on the shelf and never read it."

Who would you say was your biggest influence as writer?

Aaron: Growing up, without a doubt, Stephen King. As I got older, Daphne Du Maurier blew my mind with novels such as Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. I was also very big on Ira Levin, Robert Bloch, David Schow, Shirley Jackson, Jack Ketchum. But I absolutely still get a kick, even all these years later, when I crack the spine on a new King book. The inspired teenager in me is still there, albeit somewhat more jaded, and nothing brings on a smile like one of those big doorstoppers.

Tell me about some of your favorite convention experiences.

Aaron: A few years back, I was lucky enough to attend the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, where I happened to meet you, Mark, and a bunch of great people. It was my first international con and my heart was full of love for everyone there. I met new people, readers, and heroes. I also had an absolute ball at Conflux in my home city of Canberra, Australia. What a brilliant bunch of people, great panels, and an all round inspiring vibe. Brilliant!

I know you have traveled to the filming locations of iconic horror movies. What was your favorite place to visit?

Aaron: Absolutely visiting filming locations from Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I felt a little morbid asking a local for directions to a cemetery, but it was totally worth it.

Do you remember the first horror movie you ever saw? If so, what was it?

Aaron: Oh, this is a tough one, as so many of those memories blur into one in regarding timelines. I vividly remember my parents watching A Nightmare on Elm Street after us boys went off to bed, and I watched it from the hallway without them knowing - though largely from behind my hands. I have similar memories with the original Child's Play and - of all things - Halloween 5. But honestly, the first film to terrify me was Return to Oz. Kinder trauma all the way, folks. It toughens you up!

Did you ever make up sequels to horror movies in your head when you were younger?

Aaron: Oh, all the time. But the quality of these fictions were more Piranha 2: The Spawning than, say, Silence of the Lambs. But hey, you got to start somewhere.

I want to thank Aaron for taking the time to talk to me, and I encourage you all to read his work. He's got the goods and has a bright future ahead of him.

The new edition of HOUSE OF SIGHS can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/House-Sighs-Aaron-Dries-ebook/dp/B07CR5MMHB/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1526980910&sr=1-1&keywords=House+of+Sighs

Origin Stories: Fort/Companions In Ruin

I got a little sidetracked for a while, but I plan to become more active on this blog again. I want to return to my Origin Stories series, where I detail the path to publication for each of my books.

For this one I am going to double up, and we will be discussing the publication of my zombie novella FORT and my collection COMPANIONS IN RUIN.

I had the idea for FORT shortly after the publication of my other zombie novella ASYLUM, and actually started writing it at that time but ended up putting it aside for a while. A couple of years, actually. I happened to look over what I had while I was finishing up a novel I was writing with my friend James Newman, and I thought going back and finishing FORT would be a good thing to do for my next project.

Shortly after James and I finished our novel, DOG DAYS O’ SUMMER, we started talking about it online, and Tristan Thorne from Sinister Grin Press expressed interest in reading the novel. We had already promised first read to another publisher, which ended up buying the novel. However, Tristian asked if we had anything individually that we might want to submit for consideration with Sinister Grin.

As a short story lover, I immediately inquired if they would be interested in publishing a collection. He said sure, so I set about going through my stories to select a table of contents. In most of my previous collections, I had favored newer, never-before-published stories, but I had amassed quite a few tales that had previously appeared in anthologies and magazines but the rights were back with me and I wanted to give them a chance to find a broader audience. The title for the collection actually came from a phrase I heard in a Buddhist talk about choose our associations wisely. I thought COMPANIONS IN RUIN was a perfect title.

I also told Tristan that I was in the midst of writing a zombie novella and asked if they would also be interested in reading that once it was done. He said yes, and so I sent it to them as soon as I was done. They accepted both books, though FORT required work. I ended up fleshing the story out with several flashbacks to deepen character and expand the scope.

Sinister Grin published both these books. FORT first in November of 2015 and then a few months later COMPANIONS IN RUIN in February of 2016. They delivered two distinct and absolutely stunning covers, and helped me snag a few podcast interviews. While the books didn’t break any sales records, they did all right for me and even today I still get feedback on them.

One big thrill for me was that on the Fangoria website at the end of 2015, FORT was named one of the best books of the year. As someone who grew up on Fangoria it was something that filled me with a joy I can’t quite express.

I’m very grateful to Tristan and everyone at Sinister Grin for taking on both those books and doing such a fine job with them.

You can purchase both books on Amazon:


My latest release is the shared collection SPLISH SLASH TAKIN’ A BLOODBATH from Unnerving Press. The brainchild of Eddie Generous, this book collects tales inspired by slasher films from me, Eddie himself, and Renee Miller. I have seven stories in the collection, and the closing story was a collaborative effort by the three of us.

I always like to post “story notes” for the collections I put out, so I thought I would do one for the stories in SPLISH SLASH.

“First Time” – I love flash fiction. It is actually one of my favorite things to write, so almost every collection I ever produce will include flash. In this case, I was thinking of a standard horror image, a young couple in a car on lover’s lane, preparing to go all the way. I thought it might be fun to take that image and give it a twist.

“The Killer’s Mask” – The idea for this one originally came when I was trying to come up with something for the anthology BEHIND THE MASK, where the stories had to deal in some way with masks. However, I knew this one would likely not be long enough for that editor was looking for, so instead I wrote the story “Walk a Mile in Another Man’s Face” for BEHIND THE MASK. Yet this idea didn’t leave me so I put pen to paper. I liked the idea of someone who collected memorabilia from serial killers getting hold of the actual mask worn by a killer, and the story would be what happened to her when she put it on. I had fun making a connection here to my slasher novel SEQUEL.

“Copycat” – The idea for this one actually came from a conversation with my friend and sometimes-collaborator Shane Nelson. We were talking about stories of serial killers, and he made a comment (which I can’t repeat as it would give away a major twist in the story) that got the wheels turning in my mind. I asked his permission before turning that comment into a story. I wanted to deal with characters grieving the death of a loved one, and how they react when someone else is killed in the exact same fashion.

“The Let Down” – This story is interesting, in that it originally started as a writing challenge with a friend (Shane Nelson again). The image we started with was simply, two people sitting in a car in a graveyard at night. Well, thinking on that image, I was reminded of an earlier story I’d written, “The Hidden Cemetery.” (That story hasn’t been published yet, but will appear in a new collection late this year.) That story ends with two characters sitting in a car in a graveyard at night, and I suddenly realized I could do a follow-up that picked up right where that story ended. And the great thing, it was its own self-contained story so I included it here.

“Slow and Steady” – This story I had a lot of fun writing specifically for this collection. I was thinking about slasher films, and how one of the clichés is that the killer always walks at a leisurely pace while the victims run through the woods, and yet the killer always seems to catch up with them in the end. I couldn’t help but draw a parallel in my mind with the story of the tortoise and the hare. I thought I’d have some fun with that parallel. Originally I thought it would come off as more of a spoof, but I think while it has humor it works well as a slasher story in its own right.

“Investigation” – Okay, this story started out in my mind as something completely different. I had originally started a story I was calling “White Folks Have to Investigate” (based on something Whoopi Goldberg once said to Stephen King when talking about horror movies), and the premise was a parody of how horror movie characters always make the dumbest decisions possible. However, when I started writing it, that isn’t the direction the story took. It wasn’t playing as comedy, so I stopped trying to take it that way, and just because a story about a woman home alone investigating a strange noise in her attic. I played around with a traditional horror set up.

“Halloween Homecoming” – This story is actually a sequel to two tales published in my collection HALLOWEEN HOUSE OF HORRORS, a series of tales that has a long history. I wrote the first one, “Spook House,” in the fall of 1998 as an assignment for my Creative Writing course. I wanted to deliver something horrific for the Halloween season, and came up with something that felt like a fun slasher movie. Several years later for fun, I wrote a sequel called “Halloween Party.” Since the first one was a homage to slasher films, it felt right to do a sequel. I thought that was the end of it, but October of last year I suddenly got an inspiration for a third in the sequence, and thus “Halloween Homecoming” was born.

“Queen of the Trailer Hop” – This is the collaborative story written by myself, Eddie, and Renee. We did it as a round robin, Eddie started it, sent it to Renee to continue, then to me. We each had two turns. We did not discuss the story or map it out at all. When I would get the story for one of my turns, there would be no discussion on where the other two writers wanted the story to go and I’d decide myself. It was a rather fun experience.

SPLISH SLASH TAKIN’ A BLOODBATH can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Splish-Slash-Takin-Bloodbath-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B079S1BX3X/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1520344765&sr=1-4